Spring is around the corner and for many runners that means it is racing season! How should your prerace days differ from your regular run days? There are many myths associated with prerace preparation, and the majority of them are related to prerace nutrition. A big question mark for many runners is how to hydrate as race day approaches and also when race day arrives.
Luckily, the hydration approach for the days leading up to race day is simple: don’t change a thing. Unless a runner is already experiencing signs of dehydration and is for some reason living day-to-day life while ignoring his or her thirst, there’s no need to take in copious amounts of extra water on the days that precede race day. Water overload is a common mistake for runners, and there are numerous consequences, some more serious than others.
One straightforward effect of drinking too much water is that you will have to make more frequent bathroom runs on race day, which can definitely be annoying. Long race day bathroom lines can interrupt a proper warm-up, or even make you late for the gun. If you don’t catch your bathroom break before the race (and even if you do) you may find yourself needing to make a pit stop during the race, which is obviously undesirable. Another consequence is diluting electrolyte levels, which is a more serious issue. Diluted electrolyte levels can slow down your race by weakening your muscles and causing cramps. In serious cases it can lead to hyponatremia, a life-threatening condition. Realistically, runners shouldn’t need to change their hydration habits on the days leading up to a race.
On race day itself, runners can expect to take in some water, but nothing too extreme. For 5ks, unless the weather conditions are extreme, runners shouldn’t need to drink more than a cup of water before the race, because the distance is not enough to cause dehydration (unless it was a preexisting condition). For longer races (upwards of 10k), it’s important to look up what will be provided during the race. If you know where the water stations are during the race, you don’t have to worry as much about your extra hydration before the race. Longer races generally provide sports drinks that help replenish your electrolytes, but if they don’t (you will have to dig up this information), then you may need to consider bringing your own source of fuel. For those longer races, drinking an extra glass or two a few hours before the race is a good idea. That gives the water some time to settle, which will leave you feeling less bloated during the race. Down an extra cup near the starting time, and you should be good to go.
The solution to many prerace mistakes often have a common theme: moderation is key. Prerace hydration is no exception. After the race? Simply drink to your thirst, and make sure to take in some fuel to kick-start your recovery.